The Mechanicsville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†]
Mechanicsville Village Historic District is a well preserved example of an early 19th century crossroads village. The district's Georgian and 19th century vernacular dwellings maintain high integrity; no major intrusions have been constructed in the district. Historically, Mechanicsville is significant for its development in the early 19th century as a center for artisans. Later in the century, the village's commercial significance was revived by the Samuel Wilson Seed Company, one of Bucks County's prominent seed suppliers.
On December 14, 1814 Thomas Walton, Charles Watson, James Shaw and William Fell placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Correspondent and Farmer's Advertiser for "A WHOLE TOWN ... the new and thriving village of New-Work." The village consisted of seven lots comprising 116 acres, three stone dwelling houses [which still stand: the Thomas Walton House, the William Fell House, and the Charles Watson House, a store "equal to almost any in the county," a nail factory, shoemaker and tailor shop, a joiner's shop and chairhouse, and a new blacksmith shop. The village began soon after "a new road lately laid" (1803) crossed the Durham Road connecting Lumberville on the Delaware with Doylestown.
Within eleven years the village had become a cluster of stone and frame buildings associated with artisans. Unlike most early nineteenth century small villages in southeastern Pennsylvania (Spring Valley, Dyerstown, or Hartsville in Bucks County, for example). Mechanicsville did not grow up around a grist mill or tavern, but as a result of mechanics' trade, hence its earliest name of "New-York" and its present name of "Mechanicsville" given in 1830 when the post office was established. During the first sixty years of the nineteenth century, at least fifteen artisans lived in the village: five blacksmiths, four shoemakers, three carpenters (or joiners), one wheelwright, one stone mason, and one tailor. A glance at the daybook for Samuel Wesner, a Mechanicsville shoemaker during the 1850s, indicates that much of his trade was local; names of village residents appear regularly.
Because many of the village residences were erected for craftsmen or artisans, the dwellings are small in scale and simple in form. Most significant, however, is the high integrity of the buildings. Except for the Thomas Walton House (which has a 1970s frame store addition replacing an earlier frame store addition), none of the buildings have twentieth century additions placed flush with their facades. Also, the majority of the dwellings retain multi-paned sash windows, wood shutters, and simple door surrounds, preserving the village's nineteenth century appearance.
All of the villages in Buckingham Township are small to moderate in size and were primarily service villages for the surrounding countryside. The township is centrally located between the large towns of Doylestown, the county seat, and New Hope, a major commercial center on the Delaware River and the Pennsylvania Canal. Their relative size was dependent on the commercial activity, physical limitations or advantages, or the impetus provided by local entrepreneurs.
Mechanicsville never developed much beyond the hamlet stage. It began as a crossroads village. In the mid nineteenth century much of the village was acquired by Samuel Wilson. Wilson's activities were directed to agriculture rather than development. The houses from the early nineteenth century were updated, but little expansion occurred in the village as compared to other crossroads towns in the region. Mechanicsville is at a scale similar to the Buckingham villages of Holicong, Pineville, or Forest Grove. It is larger than the small hamlets of Mozart, Bridge Valley or Buckingham Valley which have a tendency to spread out along the road, making it difficult to determine where the villages begin and end; but not as large, or regularly laid out as Buckingham or Wycombe. It is difficult to compare the village with Spring Valley or similar villages where the topography, and specifically, the paths of creeks determine the contour of the village. The only other village in Buckingham Township, Lahaska, has been radically altered by the mid-twentieth century created "historical" shopping district known as Peddler's Village.
Samuel Wilson (1824-1897), "the man who put the village on the map, so to speak" (2), was born on the family farm adjoining the north side of Mechanicsville. Wilson spent the early years of his adult life as a merchant, school teacher, and journalist. After his marriage to Maria Burger in 1852, Wilson returned to the village of Mechanicsville. Samuel and Maria Wilson purchased land from Joshua Fell in 1853 and built a large, three story, "L" shaped house with a shallow gable roof accentuated by brackets. In 1859, Samuel Wilson inherited eighteen acres near his residence from his father. His wife purchased an additional nine acres from the estate of her father-in-law. These acres formed the core of Wilson's seed farm.
Wilson began experimenting with new varieties of seed prior to his first seed sale. According to W.W.H. Davis's History of Bucks County: "In the Spring of 1876 he [Wilson] began growing seeds for market in a small way, and, the business growing from year to year, he became an extensive seed grower, shipping seed to all parts of the world, and doing a large business for about twenty years." (3)
During these twenty years, Wilson acquired one-third of the lots in Mechanicsville including the post office. The large volume of mail the seed company generated (including approximately 50,000 see catalogues/year sent to customers) caused the post office to be designated a Presidential office on July 1, 1891. Wilson's first seed catalogue was produced in 1876. The only catalogue located for the company dates from the year 1888. The cover of the catalogue shows "A partial view of Samuel Wilson's Seed Farms." The view shows the house he built in 1853 and the seed house erected in 1885 after he had acquired an adjoining tract of twenty-five acres from Joshua Fell. The catalogue illustration also depicts the seed fields surrounding the buildings. From the bankruptcy sale notice, it is known that the Wilson Seed Company sold at least 266 varieties of seeds. The inventory taken of the seed house after Wilson's death in 1897 listed the following seeds: rye, onions, beans, beets, cabbage, cucumbers, musk melons, radishes, tomatoes, grass, herd grass, sunflowers, turnips, pumpkins, squash, corn, popcorn, broom corn, sugar corn, carrots, buck wheat, wheat, potatoes, timothy, field peas, clover, and unnamed vegetables and flowers. At the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Wilson exhibited thirty varieties of winter wheat seed which he had developed and won special commendation for his "Red Wonder."(4)
Samuel Wilson's wife, Maria, died in 1893; about this time, Samuel began to turn the company over to his children. In 1895 he sold his residence and the adjoining land to William E. Wilson; his daughter Elizabeth purchased the seed house and its land; his son Samuel bought the post office lot. The other lots in Mechanicsville were sold by his assignees to pay debts. Wilson died intestate in 1897 at the age of seventy-three; the contents of the seed house were sold at public sale. William E. Wilson, a younger son, farmed the land but did not continue the seed company after his father's death. (The bankruptcy sale for the Samuel Wilson Seed Company occurred during the ownership of William Wilson prior to the Orphan's Court Sale ordered at the death of Samuel Wilson.)
Wilson's seed company was said "to have been the largest seed business in the United States capitalized and conducted by a single individual" (5) during the late nineteenth century and was one of three seed companies: Fordhook Seed Farm (W. Atlee Burpee), Doylestown; D. Landreth Sons, Bristol; and Samuel Wilson, Mechanicsville) listed in the 1894 Directory for Bucks County. (6) The Burpee Seed Company was founded in the same year as Wilson's company (1876) but had its headquarters in Philadelphia. Not until 1888 did Burpee acquire Fordhook Farm in Doylestown township, Bucks County. The Landreth Seed Company near Bristol, Bucks County, pre-dated the Wilson Seed Company by almost a century and was also located solely in Bucks County. No documented buildings associated with the Landreth Seed Company are known.
Southeastern Pennsylvania was a significant location for seed companies during the late nineteenth century; in addition to the three Bucks County companies mentioned above, the following firms were also located in the Philadelphia vicinity: Henry A. Dreer, Robert Buist, Maule, Mitchell, Johnson, Stokes, Moore, Simon, Ely, Walters and Mingle. (7) Samuel Wilson's experiments with seed varieties was also part of a trend in seed production during this era. In addition to the work accomplished at Burpee's Fordhook Farm, the Federal government granted funds through the Hatch Act of March 1887 for the establishment of experimental stations.
Wilson's Seed Company in Mechanicsville was a local expression of the national trend of seed merchandising and experimentation; this national trend had a major impact of Bucks County economy and agriculture through the Landreth, Burpee, and Wilson seed companies. Additionally, Wilson's company was of great local commercial significance, rejuvenating the village of Mechanicsville.
During the twentieth century, not much happened to alter the appearance of the village. The store property changed from a general store to a furniture store and the post office reverted to fourth class status but little new construction occurred. The village has kept its nineteenth century countenance.
National Register of Historic Places, Mechanicsville Historic District, nomination document, 1988, NRHP #88003049, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
School District: Central Bucks